Edward Alleyn, a successful actor-manager and entrepreneur purchased the Manor of Dulwich in 1605. Some year later he decided to create a charitable Foundation in Dulwich. The original beneficiaries were twelve poor scholars, six poor brothers and six poor sisters. Work began on constructing the original almshouse on either side of Christ's Chapel in 1613. The first resident, Henry Briggs of Peckham, moved into the new Almshouse on the 30th September 1616.

These beneficiaries were all chosen from four parishes with which Alleyn was closely associated: St Botolph’s Bishopsgate (where he was born); St Saviour's Southwark (where he had lived and been Churchwarden); St Giles Cripplegate (where his Fortune Theatre was situated); and the parish of Camberwell, in which his Manor lay. In 1773 the new parish of St Luke's took the place of St Giles as a nominating body.

The Almshouse continuously has provided homes for elderly people ever since, although current residents are no longer required to swear the oath which was introduced in 1626.

(From Edward Alleyn’s Statutes and Ordinances of 29 September 1626)

You, A.B., unto whome God out of his goodnesse and mercy hath bestowed this guift to be one of the poore brethren or sisters of this College of God’s Guift, in Dulwich, in the countie of Surrey, shall here professe, that you are a single person and unmarried, and shall so continue all the time that you abide in this college; you shall not deceiptfully, malitiously, or wittinglye for your part, breake any of the ordinances or statutes of this college, but trulie observe, keep, and pforme the same, and you shall never consent, graunt, or agree to any alienacon, sale or puttinge away any of the landes, tentes, rentes, goods, or profits, or other things that doe or hereafter shall belong or appteyne to the said college, nor by any manner of waies or means practise or goe about to alter or chaunge the foundacon of this college, or any statute or ordinance made for the welfare and government thereof; nor doe or commit any acte or actes, thing or thinges, to the derrogacon, disturbance, losse or damage of the said college. So helpe you God, and the holie contents of this book.